Reflections Blog

Trump in Denial

When I was in high school, I read a story about a voodoo priest who placed a death curse on a man.  The man didn’t believe in voodoo, so he wasn’t worried about it, but then he started feeling poorly.  His joints ached, he began sweating profusely, and he was running a fever.  He told a friend about the curse and asked if he should be worried.  The friend said, “Maybe you just have the flu.  If voodoo isn’t real, you’ll get better.  But if it is real, you’ll die, and what you believe won’t matter.”

This is how it is with global warming.  If it isn’t real, thousands of scientists and hundreds of world leaders are sounding the alarm for nothing, and their folly will become evident in the decades ahead.  But if global warming is real, then climate change deniers like Donald Trump, who’s announced he will pull America out of the Paris climate agreement, Steve Bannon (Trump’s shadowy rabbi), and Scott Pruitt (current Administrator of the EPA) are going to be shown for the fools they are.   The consequences of their buffoonery, however, will be felt throughout the world for decades—and maybe forever.  Trump, Bannon, and Pruitt won’t live to see the worst of the damage they’re inflicting on humanity, but our grandchildren will, as will their children and the generations that follow (if any do).

Before you think I’m irrationally alarmist, read on.

A fact that politicians like Trump never seem to grasp is that truth always and inevitably triumphs over politics.  Like Trump, you can deny reality.  You can bury your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist.  You can speak against reality and energize your base with lies, misstatements, and “alternative facts,” but in the end what is real is real.  Either voodoo is real or it isn’t.  Either your inauguration crowd was the largest in history, or it wasn’t (see the photos).  Either global warming is real or it isn’t.  If it is real, as an overwhelming amount of evidence indicates, then global temperatures will continue to rise (they have been), polar ice will melt more rapidly (it is), sea levels will rise (they are), storms will increase in intensity (they have been), and denying this reality won’t make a difference.

Truth always and inevitably triumphs over politics. 

The Paris climate agreement is a landmark accord among every nation on Earth except three—Nicaragua, Syria, and now the United States.  Prior to this agreement, virtually every global human undertaking, except war, has been accomplished by scientists and physicians trying to eradicate diseases like polio and smallpox.  It’s rare to see humanity reach a global agreement in the interest of all people everywhere, and this is what the Paris agreement represents.  After decades of scientific evidence of global warming, the world came together in Paris to address the issue before it’s too late.  Having our president pull America out of the agreement is beyond shameful.  It is tragic.  And it reflects Donald Trump’s dangerous ignorance as well as the politicizing of an issue that could destroy humanity within fewer generations than you imagine.

The Paris Climate Agreement—in Brief

The Paris climate agreement is a global accord to combat climate change.  It was signed on December 12, 2015, by 196 nations, and will follow the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020.  The essence of the Paris agreement is this:

It commits the community of nations to cap temperatures at less than two degrees Centigrade (C) above pre-industrial levels and to strive for a limit of 1.5 degrees C.  The goal is to achieve a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere between 2050 and 2100.

According to the agreement each country is to make its own plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and report on its progress every two years.  There are no mandated limits on greenhouse emissions for any country.  Nothing is binding.  The United States would not be forced to do anything except meet its agreement on reporting.

Trump’s argument for withdrawing from the agreement is that it would cost America jobs.  However, the CEOs of some of America’s largest corporations—including Apple, Wal-Mart, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Adobe, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and Unilever—wrote an open letter to Trump arguing that staying in the agreement would not harm American jobs or the economy.  On the contrary, being a leading member of the Paris agreement would strengthen America’s competitiveness; create jobs, markets, and growth; and reduce business risks.

What America really stands to lose by withdrawing from the agreement is a leadership position in the world.  It will isolate us from other industrialized nations and enable other countries, like China and Russia, to step into the leadership vacuum.  They will exert greater influence on the world stage, forge new partnerships with nations previously aligned with America, and pave the way for stronger economic alliances.  Ultimately, this will weaken our competitive position globally and cost us jobs as markets move away from American products. 

An Uninhabitable Earth

The July 2017 issue of New York magazine featured an article by David Wallace-Wells entitled
The Uninhabitable Earth.”  No matter where you stand on the issue of climate change, this is an article you should read.  Among the dire predictions in this article are the heat death of millions of people, particularly in the tropics; a catastrophic decline in global food production; plagues caused by pathogens released as polar ice melts; worldwide economic collapse; poisoned oceans; and a permanent state of war as global conflicts increase. 

But is this doomsday picture correct?  It may be the worst-case scenario, but there is no question that global warming is occurring at an alarming rate.  In the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in history.  In NASA’s 134-year record, fifteen of the hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, with the hottest year on record being 2016.  Climate change deniers have argued that the pace of temperature increase has actually slowed in the past 15 years, but this is not true.  A careful examination of scientific data from the past 15 years shows that there has been no hiatus in global warming.  The incidence of hurricanes is increasing, along with their intensity.  So are the incidence and intensity of wild fires and heat waves.  I won’t quote all the evidence for global warming, but you can read it yourself at these websites:  Union of Concerned Scientists, National Resources Defense Council, and Conservation International

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli published a slim book in 2016 entitled Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.  I highly recommend this beautifully written book and am going to quote from his final chapter:

I believe that our species will not last long.  It does not seem to be made of the stuff that has allowed the turtle, for example, to continue to exist more or less unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, for hundreds of times longer, that is, than we have even been in existence.  We belong to a short-lived genus of species.  All of our cousins are already extinct.  What’s more, we do damage.  The brutal climate and environmental changes that we have triggered are unlikely to spare us.  For Earth they may turn out to be a small irrelevant blip, but I do not think that we will outlast them unscathed—especially since public and political opinion prefers to ignore the dangers that we are running, hiding our heads in the sand.  We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our individual mortality.  I fear that soon we shall also have to become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise, or at least the demise of its civilization.

Reading this and thinking about the election of Donald Trump to our presidency made me wonder if the Romans were aware of the impending collapse of their empire.  Were the warning signs there?  Could Roman leaders have looked at their situation and made different decisions, decisions that might have preserved Rome’s glory?  Or were they so embroiled in partisan bickering and so focused on serving their self-interests that they were incapable of exercising wise leadership? 

It could very well be that not only America but the whole human race is now living at the apex of human civilization.  Perhaps the world we see today represents the most we will have achieved as a species.  It may be that we are already on a perilous downhill slide and that our extinction has been preordained by our short-sighted selfishness (e.g., America First) and our collective inability to match our advances in technology with equal advances in moral reasoning and for making farsighted global choices in the management of our resources, our environment, our population, and our planet.  As Emmanuel Macron, the new president of France, said after Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw America from the Paris climate agreement, “There is no plan B because there is no planet B.”

We have nowhere else to go.  This small planet in a vast universe is our only home, and America has elected a colossal fool as its leader at a time when we are rapidly polluting our environment, population growth is out of control, our ability to produce enough food to feed our bloating numbers will soon be exhausted, and the prospect of chemical or biological attacks and global thermonuclear war is looming.

Woe be to us.

Global warming is like voodoo.  Either it’s real or it isn’t.  If it’s not, and if you’re a climate-change denier like our president, then in the decades to come you can laugh at the dire predictions in “The Uninhabitable Earth” and pat yourself on the back for your wisdom.  But if you’re wrong, and we’ve done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if you’re wrong and global temperatures are rising catastrophically, if you’re wrong and the Earth is becoming uninhabitable, then you deserve condemnation for burying your head in the sand while we still had time to prevent the end of civilization as we know it today.

Damn You.  Damn You All

We need wise leaders.  Leaders who are not blinded by self-interest and who understand that the fate of our individual nations is inextricably bound to the fate of all nations.  We need smart leaders who are farsighted and not parochial in the exercise of their responsibilities toward us and future generations.  What we’ve got is Donald Trump and a stubbornly partisan Republican Congress that supports him no matter how inane his behavior and decisions. 

It’s time to say enough is enough.  It’s time to call and write your elected officials and tell them that pulling out of the Paris climate agreement is a dangerous mistake.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Trump has announced his intention to withdraw, but there is still time to resist. 

Edmund Burke said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”   I would modify that by saying that the only thing necessary for stupidity to prevail is for intelligent and sensible people to do nothing.  If we stand by and allow the United States to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, if we don’t speak up to prevent this travesty, then we will be as culpable as Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Scott Pruitt, and other fools who continue to deny the reality of global warming even as the poles are melting more rapidly, the seas are rising, and storms are becoming more destructive.   If we don’t act now, if we don’t speak up, then our descendants will have every right to look back at us and say, “Damn you.  Damn you all.”

It’s easy to act.  Write or email your elected representatives.  Write or email other members of Congress, especially those in leadership positions.  Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper.  Talk to your neighbors.  Organize petitions.  Attend town hall meetings.  Make your voice heard and demand that the United States continue to play a strong leadership role in combating global warming.  And when the next election occurs, vote for intelligent candidates who will act responsibly to protect our environment, the only environment we now have and ever will have.  Vote to protect your children and grandchildren.  And for heaven’s sake, vote Donald Trump and his Republican stooges out of office.

Contact the White House

Contact members of Congress

 

Image credits:  Denial is not climate policy (AMR-Photos @ istockphoto.com), Fire (kristo74 @ istockphoto.com), Head in the sand (dedMazay @ istockphoto.com), Lonely Tree (SonerCdem @ istockphoto.com).

Comments

Ken Christian

The current administration is chock full of buffoons led by lunatic president. The two major power plants near me along the Ohio River have recently converted from coal to oil. The 'owners' recognized the need to reduce the plant carbon emissions and did something about it. Trumpster and his idiot staffers are on a path that may very well destroy this country if not civilization as a whole. I hope that enough public and private support can be developed to cause a reversal of the decision to abandon the Paris agreement.

July 19, 2017, 9:33 PM
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